For millions of disabled Americans, historically, the only option for obtaining a wheelchair-accessible vehicle was to purchase a standard automobile and spend thousands of dollars on aftermarket features, including wheelchair lifts, ramps, and/or door adaptations, compromising not only design, but also aesthetic appeal. In addition to the struggles associated with finding and funding accessible transportation, wheelchair users were responsible for ensuring their personal wheelchair abided by current American National Standards Institute (ANSI) WC 19 standards regarding transportation safety.
In May 2000, the American National Standards Institute, in conjunction with RESNA, the Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology Society of North America, published Section 19 of ANSI/RESNA Wheelchair Standards/Volume 1, Wheelchairs for Use as Seats in Motor Vehicles, otherwise known as WC 19. The WC 19 specifies universal design parameters, testing methods, and performance requirements for manual and power wheelchairs, in order to provide safe and appropriate forward-facing seating for passengers in various types of motor vehicles.1 To achieve WC 19 status, among other requirements, the wheelchair must be equipped with a four-point strap-type tie-down system as well as have a design incorporated that allows for single-handed removal and application of the straps. In addition, the wheelchair must pass a series of crash testing similar to that of automobile testing, documenting its ability to withstand the force of a 30-mph change in velocity.1
Today, there are multiple manufacturer variations in tie-down and docking mechanisms, and it is important to understand the distinction. The key difference is a docking mechanism utilizes a method to secure the wheelchair by inserting an aftermarket feature or a portion of the wheelchair frame into a securement device that is mounted to the vehicle, whereas a tie-down device incorporates the use of four straps that are attached to the wheelchair and secured to the vehicle at four separate anchor locations.2
Following implementation of the WC 19 standards, professionals in the seating and mobility field posed an interesting question. Whereas the WC 19 standard was an invaluable tool to ensure safety within the individual’s wheelchair structure and frame, was there any regulation to address the safety of the seating system itself, including but not limited to the seating framework, mounting hardware, and primary seating surfaces? At the time, the answer was no. Essentially, an individual could be seated in a wheelchair that complies with WC 19 standards and therefore deemed safe for travel, although they could experience injury as a result of a seating system from another manufacturer being utilized on the WC 19 compliant frame. Therefore, a need arose to implement a method of evaluation to assess the presentation and performance of the seating systems that are utilized in conjunction with the wheelchair frame. As a result, the WC 20 standards were created.
SECURING A COMPLIANT BLEND
The marriage of a WC 19 compliant wheelchair frame with a WC 20 seating system and an approved docking system provides a secure and reliable method of transporting individuals within a motor vehicle while seated in their wheelchair. In addition to the wheelchair and docking system, the lift mechanism must be considered. There are a number of manufacturers that provide a variety of vehicle ramps and lifts, previously fabricated and sold as an aftermarket add-on to standard vehicles. Some lifts are externally mounted to a hitch and designed to lift and store the unoccupied wheelchair or scooter on the outside of the vehicle. Others are internal, either lifting the unoccupied wheelchair or scooter into the trunk of the car or into the back of a van or SUV, or allowing the occupied wheelchair to be lifted into a van via a back or side access lift.
The aforementioned lifts are functional and effective, but may not always offer high aesthetic appeal. For decades, function has trumped style in the world of wheelchair transportation vehicles and lifts. Recently, however, developments in the world of wheelchair transportation have taken the traditional design of wheelchair-accessible vehicles to a new level.
MOBILITY WITH AN EDGE
Three-wheeled vehicles offering a high performance blend of motorcycle and race car have allowed users to buck conventional mobility and veer onto roads less traveled. Originating in Europe and currently available through domestic manufacturers, many models of these fully wheelchair-accessible motorcycles are designed for accessibility, versatility, and function. Engineered to exhibit a high level of performance, particularly in comparison to what is commonly offered within the accessible vehicle market, select models are also capable of reaching speeds of up to 105 miles per hour and achieving 0 miles to 60 miles per hour in less than 5 seconds.3
Designed specifically for those who previously enjoyed the thrill of riding a motorcycle—but can no longer do so as a result of injury or illness—wheelchair-accessible motorcycles allow users to enter the motorcycle from an automatic rear ramp controlled via a key fob, and experience the adventure once again. Standard features include a wheelchair docking mechanism, which is conveniently released with the push of a button to allow ease of entry and exit from the cycle. Hand controls, a reverse feature to provide ease in parking and maneuvering the trike, and a passenger seat option are designed to help put the fun back into functional in regard to wheelchair transportation.
For those who prefer to keep all four tires on the pavement, specific models of wheelchair-accessible cars that debuted in September 2011 promote an added benefit in that the vehicles do not have to be structurally modified and are completely accessible, meeting or exceeding ADA guidelines. No aftermarket alterations are necessary.
These factory-fabricated wheelchair-accessible cars also provide users with a 56-inch-high by 36-inch-wide side door opening for easy wheelchair or motorized scooter entry and exit via a wide deployable ramp with a 1,200-pound capacity that quickly and easily stores beneath the floor inside the vehicle.4 The vehicle’s ramp is available in either a manual or powered version. The vehicle is designed to accommodate a passenger in a wheelchair and an additional five occupants, when equipped with the optional rear-facing jump seat, and is available in both consumer and fleet models to serve the needs of the community with taxi or medical transportation services.5 Perhaps the most enjoyable aspect of the newest models of wheelchair-accessible cars is that the vehicles allow the wheelchair user to ride safely and securely in the front passenger position of the vehicle. This feature aims to eliminate the stigma and inconvenience of requiring the wheelchair user to sit behind the driver, as may be the case with other wheelchair transportation vehicles.
Following its introduction, a recent wheelchair-accessible car model was quickly approved by the NYC Taxi & Limousine Commission as well as the Philadelphia Parking Authority Taxicab & Limousine Division to allow the owners of the more than 13,000 taxis currently operating in the cities to begin replacing some of their existing or outdated vehicles with this fully accessible vehicle, providing residents and visitors with disabilities not only a greater amount of comfort and security but also excellent accessibility.6
In the world of wheelchair transportation, it seems as though the line between fun and function is beginning to blur, and as a result of the marriage between safety standards, technological advances, and new product lines, wheelchair users today may experience exhilaration and enjoyment as never before.
Kirsten N. Davin, OTDR/L, ATP, SMS, is an occupational therapist, Assistive Technology Professional, and Seating and Mobility Specialist, who is featured at continuing education seminars and lectures throughout the nation, which she provides through Cross Country Education as well as on a private basis. She is the owner of a private practice, Escape Mobility Solutions, LLC, headquartered in Pleasant Plains, Ill, and specializes in wheelchair seating, positioning, and assistive technology provision. Davin also practices clinically at Memorial Medical Center in Springfield, Ill, as a staff occupational therapist, and is currently on faculty at Rocky Mountain University of Health Professions, in Provo, Utah. For more information, contact .
- Custom Seating Team, Sunrise Medical. WC20: A new standard for custom seating product design. Available at: [removed]sunrisemedicaleducation.com/docs/WC20-A-New-Standard-for-Custom-Seating-Product-Design-white-paper.pdf[/removed]. Accessed July 1, 2012.
- The University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute. Ride Safe: Wheelchair safety in vans and buses. Available at: www.travelsafer.org/glossary.shtml. Accessed June 27, 2012.
- Mobility Conquest. The Conquest wheelchair motorcycle specification sheet. Available at: www.mobilityconquest.com. Accessed June 27, 2012.
- The Vehicle Production Group. MV-1 features and specifications. Available at: www.vpgautos.com/. Accessed July 6, 2012.
- Leonard R, Dinsay S. The MV-1, the first automobile designed from the ground up to be wheelchair-accessible, unveiled in NYC. Available at: www.vpgautos.com/mobility-vehicle-media/news-and-events/press-inquiry-detail/20. Accessed July 6, 2012.
- Frydman K. Philadelphia parking authority taxicab and limousine division approves the MV-1. Available at: www.vpgautos.com/mobility-vehicle-media/news-and-events/press-inquiry-detail/15. Accessed July 12, 2012.